By John Perrotto
The question posed to Gerrit Cole during his introductory conference call with the Pittsburgh media on Monday night was rather unfair.
The UCLA right-hander, who had been taken by the Pirates with the first overall selection in Major League Baseball’s First-Year Player Draft a half-hour earlier, was asked for his impressions of Pittsburgh. Born and raised in Southern California, Orange County to be exact, Cole has never been to the Steel City. Yet he tried his best to give a coherent answer.
“You’ve got Roberto Clemente, a great city, a great ballpark, a lot of history, a lot of tradition, the Steelers, obviously,” Cole said. “I hear it’s a great place to play, a great environment and the fans are unbelievable.”
Whether Cole becomes a favorite of the fans remains to be seen but envisioning a future rotation of big arms that include him, Jameson Taillon, Stetson Allie and Luis Heredia is enough to excite anybody. Cole said something later in the conference call that indicates that he could be the type of player Pittsburgh sports fans love.
“I’m the type of guy who wears my heart on my sleeve,” Cole said. “I show my emotions. Sometimes it’s not always a good thing and it’s something I’ve learned to control better as I’ve gotten older but it’s definitely a part of who I am.”
The biggest knock about the Pirates during their string of 18 consecutive losing seasons has been that they do not play the game with enough fire.
The Pirates tried to artificially shed that label when Frank Connelly became club president in 2007 by adopting “Pride and Passion” as their marketing slogan. That pride and passion has begun to manifest itself naturally this season under the leadership of first-year manager Clint Hurdle. Thus, it would seem Cole will right into the Pirates’ plan of rebuilding the franchise into a powerhouse.
General manager Neal Huntington rattled off many of Cole’s positive characteristics on Monday night, including his three-pitch arsenal that features a fastball that reaches 100 mph, a hard slider and an improving changeup. Another word Huntington used was intense.
Indeed, scouts who have watched Cole since his high school days know he is famous for his intensity. Sometimes, it got the better of him in high school, which is why he never even negotiated with the New York Yankees when they drafted him in the first round in 2008 following his senior year at Orange Christian Academy.
“It just wasn’t my time then,” Cole said. “I needed to go to college and I’m glad I did.”
Cole experienced a lot in three seasons at UCLA, including pitching in the College World Series last year and winning the Pacific-10 Conference championship this spring before losing to UC-Irvine in the NCAA regionals last weekend. While going to college helped Cole raise his draft stock, he believes it proved to be more beneficial than just putting him in position to make a ton of money.
“You can’t sum it all up in one sentence,” Cole said of his college experience. “I fine tuned a lot of different aspects of the game. I learned a lot of things that don’t show up in the statistics. I learned how to take care of stuff off the field and to persevere through school as well as a lot of stuff on the field. It was such a privilege to be part of the environment and to be a UCLA Bruin. I’m a better person now in so many ways then the day I walked onto campus. I’ve grown up a lot.”
John Perrotto has covered Major League Baseball since 1988 and writes for Baseball Prospectus and the Beaver County Times.